Commander Richard Nigel Lyon Welby D.S.C RN (Rtd) died peacefully on 10th February 2012. His memorial service was held at St Mary's, Taunton, Somerset.
We have uploaded a recording of the service to Soundcloud. You can listen to it here:
Eulogies from one of his three sons, and two of his six grandchildren.
My father was born into a naval family, his mother was Euphemia Violet Lyon part of the Bowes Lyon family and with a great naval tradition, Her father was governor of Malta in the first world war when she met and fell in love with a young naval captain called Richard Martin Welby. His life was to be tragically cut short through a naval accident when Dad was just nine. Was this loss of a father so early the reason why he was always such an involved Dad Grandad and Great Grandad as the years rolled by?
During the first world war a friendship developed between Richard Martin Welby who was British and Paul Shipman Andrews who was an American, both serving at sea. Such a friendship developed that when Nigel Lyon His mother’s brother, was killed in that war the two friends agreed to name their respective firstborns after him – hence my father’s three names Richard Nigel Lyon Welby. At the same time Paul called his firstborn Nigel Lyon Andrews – the Paul Andrews who will shortly be singing for us, having travelled from Los Angeles to be here and represent the family today, himself a namesake of Paul Shipman Andrews is the son of Nigel Lyon Andrews a friendship across the pond that now stretches into a fifth generation…
So we have come together to remember and celebrate my father of whom one of our correspondents said “He was a very special person, with a generosity of spirit and action that has been an inspiration for me and to many others. He gave so much more than he took from the world. His departure is a loss that will be keenly felt, even though he lived to an advanced age.”
He was always bound for the navy, going to Twyford Prep School at a time when its curriculum was still the same as it had been in the previous century… then to Winchester College – he used to remember being driven over Telegraph hill in the snow to get there – before leaving after only 4 years as ‘public school entry’ into the Navy in 1934. His Midshipman’s log is on display in the memorial halls afterwards. Recording events of that war with a sharpness of analysis that stands up 70 years later…
Incidentally he was colourblind in the red spectrum, however the Navy had the same test for everyone, so he simply learnt by rote what the right answers were and so passed successfully… Typically practical in the face of a difficulty that might have made others stop. He began as a midshipman in HMS Dragon and always said that he had a rather boring and safe war. The records show that he was on patrol in the Med and the South Atlantic until 1941, before joining HMS Eglington as sub lieutenant and then lieutenant on anti Eboat patrols in the channel. He then commanded the 75th LC Flotilla off North Africa. He helped land the 41st Royal Marines on Sicily in 1943 and was present on DDay in HMS Pytchley. He finished the war in HMS Zest.
His quiet and boring war including winning a DSC (with others): the citation reads “for gallant and distinguished services and untiring devotion to duty in an operation which led to the capture of Sicily”
One of his great qualities was his modesty, we have discovered that the medals he wore on Remembrance were his campaign medals, His DSC remained quietly at home. This modesty in his later years extended to his role as grandfather, he was as you will hear a wonderful grandfather, but he would say to me things like “I don’t know why they love me so much, I am just their grandfather” he genuinely couldn’t see how special he made people feel. This is why so many of you are here today, whether those of you who worked for him, or those from the Stroke Club – where he used to mark each
year with an arrival with little signs held up wishing everyone a happy new year. And where he was somewhat fed up that -at the age of 90 -insurance would not allow him to push others’ wheelchairs…
He was a man who somehow had time for each person and the right word with it.
This trait of dad’s to make a real connection with people quickly must I think have come from his mother. It was through his mother that he met Priscilla. His mother, well known and active in Plymouth throughout the 30’s had been asked to pioneer the role of the Wrens at Plymouth. Travelling home from London she found herself sharing a train compartment with a bearded naval officer. “Maam,” he said “I am going to drink this beer from the bottle – I do not wish to offend you so if it does so then I suggest you find another compartment.” She wasn’t offended. Indeed she made such an impact on Roger Hill, who, suitably impressed with my grandmother, encouraged his younger sister Priscilla to become a Wren at Plymouth. She served under Nigel’s sister, my aunt Patty and was entertained by the Superintendent at their house in Belmont, where inevitably when he came home on leave she met Nigel,. – who thought her – in his words – ‘rather ducky’. I have seen the tree in the garden where the proposal took place that began a marriage that lasted 62 years and 10 months. 3 sons and beloved daughters in law - all of whom with their 6 grandchildren and now 2 Great Grandchildren– a source of great pride and joy – are here today. The reason? According to my father “total commitment” and “having the right wife” apparently he had nothing to do with it…
After the war and married to Priscilla came one of their happiest times, Dad was on the ‘Long course’ in Gunnery for a year at Whale Island near Portsmouth. Great lifelong friendships were formed. Pippa Williams and their son Alex, representing David, are here today with considerable effort, close friends of over 65 years. As I was growing up I grew accustomed to hearing friends described as ‘long course’ a code I quickly came to understand meant special long serving friends.
The sheer passion of their love shines through in the scrap books: Here are some samples a card with some flowers from Ni (as she always called him) to Priscilla “not the pick of the bunch to offer to the fairest of the fair but if I add my love will you accept it?” in a card sent from her to him My skipper I am hailing to thank you (underlined) for everything that makes my life smooth sailing “ she signs it “my darling one and only”.
Dad was posted to Malta – my mother’s scrap book recorded the process of shipping out to Malta with Chris as a young child to join Dad there. Again, the passion shines through telegrams sent back and forth. He sends to her as she boards the steamer to join him “Hurry up you two Nigel”, when she finally gets there and telegrams her mother to say so, she ends with two words: “paradise regained”.
They were to serve in Malta twice in the 50’s before settling at Alverstoke in Gosport opposite Portsmouth, where they had a house built, (having to get special permission to do so because materials were so scarce). When he sends an invitation to the housewarming as a little poem, almost everyone comes, mostly responding in poetry… Dad served from Portsmouth then in Scotland at the Gaer Loch and in Wales at the Aberporth base where they tested new generations of ship to shore missiles. One of which went off course and buried itself in a cliff! It made the local paper and , when he left, he was presented with a cliff model of the incident and also a model of the missile on a stand with the instructions to ‘light blue touch paper and stand welby clear!
Retiring in 1971 at the age of 50 he went into administration first of a Science department at Southampton University, and then became bursar of Wellington School so that they could move to be nearer his mother who lived in Tintinhull over on the A303. After several happy years there he moved to be the Administrator at Exmoor National Park where he remained until his retirement. Every year he made a point of going around every outlying information point and staff member or volunteer and seeing them personally.
He built a garden railway at our previous house in Gosport – and finding that O gauge track was expensive, he simply made his own using Woolworths metal curtain rail and gauging it himself. When he moved, it came too and we have some lovely pictures of us all having a steam day on it. In his 80s he joined an evening class and got himself a lathe.
He was so practical. I can think of no better way to illustrate this than explain about the zipwire. It starts with dad as Churchwarden of Trull receiving a quote for restringing the clock weights with new wire. He took one look at the quote and thought that is ridiculous – “it is simply a matter of getting the wire and doing it”. So he did just that and saved the church a lot of money in the process. Then he had all the old wire left over, loth to simply throw it away he brought it home and found an old chain pulley and strung it across the garden as a zipwire for the grandchildren. It lasted for years and gave hours of fun. Ingenious, practical, money saving, and thoughtful – all mixed in together…
He always had a love of sailing: buying his first boat with his elder sister Patty in the early 30’s and sailing her over to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight without a chart. Finding themselves aground on the way, he simply got over the side and pushed until they were off again. - He did that sort of thing - There is a can do attitude that we all have from him. In Wales we bought our first cruiser Dunsheen and he sailed it there and in the Solent and trailed it all the way to the Western Isles. He trailed behind a 3 Gear Bedford van with sliding doors… With no motorways, at times we would climb steep hills, getting slower and slower until on his command, the door would slide open and any family present including my mother would be out and pushing…Later he graduated to sharing a bigger boat with David and Pippa Williams, lifelong long course friends – if he ever knocked it he would ring them up and say “I’ve banged the boat but don’t worry - it was on my half!”
Humour and complete honesty.
With that came a deep humility and a desire not to put anyone out – except himself that is. His younger sister Rosemary had been disabled by Meningitis when she was 9 and throughout his life he had a special care for her and her needs. When Priscilla suffered a stroke his care for her was magnificent …
He always had a view about what should be done and this extended to politics and a wide array of subjects. We all have a tendency to give a “welby opinion”, based on little knowledge (in our case) but given with such disarming confidence and frankness that it is difficult to gainsay. These views could be strongly held. Always to the right politically, he had a clear critique of the Lib Dems “ that they lacked a clear moral position and were fundamentally flawed” Over the last several years he had moved into UKIP , sending videos from them to his grandchildren and frequently arguing their case.
One saying springs to mind from my childhood
“the things I know and the things I don’t know would fill a very large book” –
I was soooo impressed that he knew so much….
He was stubborn or determined– it is a known truth amongst us that “Welbys love to interfere and hate being interfered with” – I think I know where we got that trait from! Perhaps being the eldest son of a strong minded widow active in all sorts of ways throughout the depression of the 30’s gave him this quality. Sometimes this could be difficult for us sons – he knew so confidently what we should do that it was hard to make our own decision in the midst of his strongly held views. However if in the past he perhaps knew too often what was good for his sons, (and in retrospect he was often right), in these last years he gained a tremendous quality of encouragement. I hear his voice summing up a discussion about my business “well Its tricky but I am sure you will work it out”. I am bereft - I already miss him more than I can say.
He and Priscilla, when visiting Tim in Alaska made life long friends in the short time they were there. Including finding time to build 2 of the wooden A frame tables you see outside a pub – which are in full use 15 years later. Tim asked me to mention some of his catchy words of wisdom: One he particularly liked is “A lazy man’s load is always too much” or “the best is the enemy of the good enough”– and for the sailors amongst us when looking up the mast at the confusion of ropes there he would mutter “The devil would’ve made a good sailor if he’d ever looked up” Nigel looked up to the Living God and thought others should do the same…
He could be very funny, with a unique sense of humour that often had people – as one of you put it in a letter to us “chortling”: many years ago, I think at supper with his Cousins Gill and Michael Rose who are here today, our Hostess said as the meal was served “don’t stand on ceremony, just begin” – in the momentary silence that followed a voice could be heard observing “good name for a cat that “Ceremony”. You may like to pause on the way out and read the sign that says No parking in the churchyard without authority. A few months ago as we drew up near it he just quietly remarked “thinking of getting a dog and calling him authority”
He had a fridge magnet which read “if all is not lost then where is it?”
And through all this a deep faith, it grew from regular churchgoing but it became a real relationship with Jesus Christ in the mission that Michael Green led in Taunton in the 80’s. As I look back it strikes me that there were three distinct phases to his life of faith:
- regular churchgoing out of custom and habit in awe of a distant God
- at the Michael Green mission it dawned on him/them that they could have a real relationship with God – which had always puzzled somewhat (incidentally he was Treasurer for the mission and so felt automatically that he should go to every night, as the week continued he decided that he needed to go forward, but waited for Priscilla to come to her own decision “I have never made an important decision without her, he said, and I am not going to do so now”…)
- And then in these last years, there was a deepening relationship. As I have shared a home with him, I have been aware of a deep holiness, of wonderful relationship with a living God. So sensibly, and partly not to put out the family by asking for our company, he marked the key anniversaries of Priscilla’s passing by going to Lee Abbey in North Devon, often returning to share key spiritual truths that he had learnt there.
Tim sent a card to dad saying “you’re not grown up till you run out of birthdays” well he has run out of birthdays but then again – Now , face to face with Jesus in a new and glorious day he is grown up! And with Priscilla…
She telegrammed her parents that “paradise had been regained” when she joined him in Malta, I have been thinking a lot about that these last few days. There he is face to face with Jesus, alongside his Priscilla - Paradise gained…”
As he would say so often in the mornings “On with the day…”
We're all here because of my Grandad. For me, and some of the others here we literally could not have been here without him!
By the time we met, he'd already lived a packed 64 years so some of you have known him for far longer than me but I
reckon that our experience of him will be much the same – a man of incredible generosity and of wisdom. Someone full of integrity and good humour. A true gentleman.
But as much as we might share, I'm sorry for you because most of you can't claim membership in the exclusive club of being a Welby grandchild.
You can choose your friends, you might have some say over who you work with but you're lumped with your family. Whatever we all think about our parents (or each other) my cousins and siblings know how lucky we were to have had The Lawn and its resident Cmdr & Mrs Welby foisted on us at birth.
True, some of us seem to have inherited a certain degree of stubbornness and the ability to wreak chaos from order. Unfortunately none of us are knocking on the door of Wimbledon having failed to possess any of Granny's sporting talent and none of us have the adoration for the sea that they shared but irrespective of our genes we've witnessed a relationship whose blueprints we would do well to emulate.
Over the last few days I've looked through hundreds of photos meticulously catalogued and captioned around The Lawn. Those albums are full of the sea and they're full of friends but they're overflowing with family. And that's not just passive photo taking of family groups or staged photos complete with artificial smiles. These are always action shots with Grandad in its midst with sleeves rolled up and cracking on. In overalls contributing to one of his sons' great (and occasionally-ending) projects, big birthday or Christmas celebrations, steaming trains on the model railway, 'sailing' us across The Lawn (by pulling us in a dinghy), caravan holidays, playing games at the crack of dawn in pyjamas...
They're shots of the joy that comes from being part of this family.
There's no mistaking that Granny and Grandad were a double act in all of that (after all, who was taking the photos?). And one of the things you can't appreciate about grandparents as a child is the love they have for each other. I'm lucky that I got to grow up and begin to understand the depth of love between them and to see that particularly in his care for Granny after her stroke. I hope I can come close in my own marriage, I know he thought I could.
Christine and I got married the year Granny died and were privileged that Grandad could come up to York and celebrate the day with us. Legally that was the day Christine became a Welby but Grandad had already long adopted her into the family. The phone calls, the cards, the regular rhythm of contact with the family patriarch to us in the far flung north speak of his pride, enthusiasm and interest in what she and I were up to. We didn't see him much but he made sure he knew what we were doing, and he made sure we knew he was praying about it.
On the mantelpiece at The Lawn is a beautiful memento from one of their voyages on Duel. It reads 'what lies behind and what lies before are tiny matters compared to what's within us'. They lived like they believed that – focused on the present and investing in the people around them. And that's a large reason why today is so sad. He's going to be missed within his family but you're all going to miss him too. And we're going to miss him because as an individual, and as part of that coupling he shared with Granny, he was and will always be remembered as, an outstanding man.
I've been a very lucky grandchild.
I could not decide whether to speak, or what to say for today.
It is hard to talk briefly about a man who has helped to shape the person I am today. I am so glad that Grandad had seen me grow up and begin my study of Architecture at university – which has been a long-standing interest of mine. Grandads attentiveness in all aspects of our lives and his care and love have had more impact than I think I will ever be fully aware.
Grandad was a modest and unassuming man, with incredible wit. He was continually making me laugh, often with a quiet and brilliantly timed remark.
There were also quite a few phrases I always say now which came from him. Like, ‘I eat my peas with honey, it keeps them on the knife, I eat my peas with honey, I think its rather nice’ … though I am aware I’ve substituted this with ketchup sometimes, which I doubt Grandad would think as fitting!
He was one to promote a keen determination to plod on through. Edgar Guest’s poem ‘Somebody said it couldn’t be done’ demonstrates this. This determination has been a trait to shape me and build me as a person, and of it I am so thankful. I find myself saying the first stanza, which is particularly learnt from Grandad and Dad, when things seem a bit complicated – for ‘somebody said it couldn’t be done, and he with a smile replied that maybe it couldn’t but he’d not be the one to say so before he had tried’.
I loved visiting Grandad, and Granny, and just getting stuck in, and often grubby! There was some project on, and if it wasn’t to do with The Lawn it would be to do with another Welby. This was no less of an occurrence in these last years; and in fact Dad and me did a few odd jobs at Christmas. Like fixing the banister; which got in Grandad’s way a bit but as usual he was very obliging.
He was also an incredibly generous man. He gave money, but also made space, and gave his time to call and see how I was getting on. As with all his grandchildren I know he was genuinely interesting in how our endeavours were panning out.
It is amazing how he effected everyone he knew, and how diligently he kept in touch with family and friends, both near and far; and I hope this is something I can do as well.
Grandad’s belief and faith in God has been evident in my life, and our conversations. It has been incredible to know that we believed in the same God and that as a Grandfather he was not only watching out for me, caring for me, and shaping wonderful memories, but was also trusting me to God’s care. He would often end calls by saying he’d be praying for me about important parts of our conversation, or on certain occasions, or over nerve-racking and difficult times. I found this so comforting and affirming too.
Caring, Kind, Loving, Modest, Deep are words I associate with Grandad. There are so many questions I could have asked him and I have always been fascinated by his stories, life, and our family history. In this last week I’ve had the enjoyment of seeing old scrapbooks kept by Granny about their life together and I’ve loved learning even more about them, their lives and relationship. It’s been fun to see pictures and read letters, not only from Granny and Grandad but my uncles, and other friends and relatives.
I’ve decided my hoarding of tickets, programmes and momentos must be a predominately Welby trait – and just hope I can get a handle on the organizing and labeling characteristics of Granny, and my Mum’s family in the future so I can leave a legacy as explanatory and interesting as much of what my Grandparents have left for us.